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A Social Democratic “Innocent” Abroad

Liston Oak’s Observations on Poland

(August 1947)

From The New International, Vol. XIII No. 6, August 1947, pp. 174–175.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The impressions of Liston Oak, editor of the New York New Leader, on the situation in Poland completely confirm our information and analysis published in Labor Action and the New International. They bring many details and political declarations which make clear to the American and international public the problems of Poland and of the Russian zone in general. In spite of his reserve and criticisms of the Stalinist system, the author, however, makes some fundamental errors in his appreciation of the nature of the regime and the perspectives of political development in Stalinist Poland.

If we speak on this subject, it is not from any mean desire of finding holes in the author’s exposition, but in order to clear up problems of general international interest for the workers’ movement and Marxist doctrine.

“The sentiments of the nation, the political and economic currents, the behavior of the bureaucracy, the declarations and program, all this recalls Moscow in the early days of the Revolution, between 1917 and 1925.”

The analogy is not however complete in view of the existing differences between Leninism and Stalinism. Russia, in the Leninist period, was a country of hope,something which is totally lacking in Stalin’s Russia or in Poland under Stalin’s control.

“In Warsaw, as in Moscow in 1946, a growing abyss can be seen between the masses and the bureaucracy. The workers are told that the factories belong to them, but the worker has no conviction of this, since neither he nor the old leaders have much to say. The new masters are the political commissars .... One of the differences between the Russian and Polish revolutions is the destruction of the whole bourgeois state apparatus in Russia, while in Poland the power is in the hands of the Communist-Socialist coalition. The workers’ councils in the factories in Poland have no real power, in relation to the soviets of revolutionary Russia. The present government of Poland recalls Kerensky’s government bctween February and October 1917. It is not very probable that Poland will experience anything like the October Revolution. It is to be supposed that the Communists will gradually take over all the power.” (Liston Oak in the PAT agency version, Polish Tel., London. My emphasis – A.R.)

In this quotation, which seems to me to be the author’s most fundamental political conclusion, the grain of sand of truth is lost in the desert of false political doctrine. To prove our affirmation, we have to submit Liston Oak’s most fundamental affirmation about the Kerenskyist character of the present Stalinist regime in Poland to a real historical analysis. But the good and ingenuous Liston Oak allowed this thesis to be suggested to him by the Stalinists, who must be very pleased that having made use of such an excellent propagandist and one, besides, so removed from Stalinism in putting forward its program. The thesis of present Kerenskyism in Warsaw is nothing but the Stalinist concept of the “democratic-bourgeois” revolution in Poland.

When Was the “Democratic Revolution”?

In our article, The Problems of the Polish Revolution (New International, August–September 1946), we submitted this muddled theory to severe criticism, laying it bare before Polish reality. We will recall the matter again. The democratic revolution in Poland was exhausted in national risings against the Czar and was not able to carry out its program of creating the national independent state of Poland as a base for the development of Polish capitalism. After the defeat of the last national revolution in 1863–64, capitalism rose in Poland inside the feudal Czarist structure. The 1905 and 1917 revolutions put an end to Czarism, burying it in the swirl of the democratic revolution, which in Russia became transformed into a socialist revolution. Poland shared with Russia the democratic revolution of 1905.

In 1917 nearly the whole of Poland was occupied by the Austro-Germans and isolated from the Russian Revolution. Nevertheless, on October 7, 1918, the democratic, independent Republic of Poland was proclaimed in Lublin, headed by the government of the PPS and the Populists, by the Social-Democrat Daszynski and the Populist Witos.

This government carried out: (a) National independence as a fundamental postulate of the democratic revolution. (b) Set up a parliamentary-democratic regime of the “popular” republic as an adequate base for the development of capitalism in Poland. (c) Proclaimed the eight-hour day, the right of the workers to form trade unions, and all the modern conquests and social rights of the proletariat. (d) Posed the immediate need for radical agricultural reform, without indemnities. These fundamental points exhaust the program of the democratic revolution in Poland, parallel to that of February 1917 in Russia.

The democratic revolution in Poland did not pass on to the socialist stage. The Polish bourgeoisie buried its revolutionary axe in 1864, after the national defeat, and passed on to the stage of “organized work” and later to direct collaboration with the Czarist autocracy, which was evidenced in anti-worker actions and anti-Semitic pogroms.

The bourgeoisie boycotted the democratic petty bourgeois government of Lublin and under this pressure the Social Democrats and Populists handed over the government to its “confidence man,” to Pilsudski, who formed a government of national concentration with the right.

Thus ended Polish “Kerenskyism” and the Polish Kerensky was none other than Pilsuclski himself, the ex-Socialist and “confidence man of the Polish left,” later dictator and marshal of Poland, leader of the Polish counter-revolution.

Preparing Stalin’s Dictatorship

Bourgeois democracy wore itself out in 1926 and it was the Polish Kerensky, Pilsudski, who installed a Bonapartist dictatorship on the corpse of democracy. From 1930 onward the Bonapartist regime acquired eminently totalitarian features, under Stalinist and Nazi pressure, and that of the Polish bourgeoisie itself. In 1939, the year of Poland’s national defeat by German imperialism, Polish reaction was replaced by much deeper and more consistent Stalinist and Nazi reactions. The national resistance, and especially the illegal struggle of workers and peasants, constituted the germ of social revolution in Poland. The revolution in Warsaw was the most finished expression of this movement of social and national liberation.

When Stalin stopped the Russian offensive at the gates of Warsaw, to give the Nazis time to crush the Polish rising, this was a new Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, supported by the “democracies” and directed against the embryonic social revolution in Poland. The Russian armies which invaded Poland over the dead body of the Warsaw insurrection and the illegal struggle, brought with their bayonets, not liberation and “democratic revolution,” but a Stalinist counter-revolution, national oppression and Russian imperialism.

The last stage of the democratic revolution in Poland was carried out from 1918 to 1926. Later came the counter-revolution in its various stages until the Nazi occupation. The only revolution which would have been able to defeat reaction was the international socialist revolution, whose seed was destroyed in Warsaw in 1944. What is taking place in Poland now is neither “Kerenskyism” nor another “democratic revolution,” but a Stalinist counter-revolution acting under the mask of “popular democracy,” “nationalization of industries,” “democratic agricultural reform,” etc.

The nationalization of industries is an instrument in the hands of Stalinist imperialism for exploiting and sacking the Polish people, and has nothing in common with socialist nationalization. The agricultural reform is lacking in any economic importance, since central and western Poland had a typically capitalist agricultural structure, even more capitalist than Eastern Germany. The policy of state capitalism, officially proclaimed, serves to cement the Stalinist bureaucratic dictatorship brought in with the Russian bayonets. “The agricultural reform” is an instrument of this bureaucracy for despoiling the peasant masses of the produce of their work and reducing them to the condition of the bureaucracy’s slaves. “Popular democracy” is merely a cynical mask [or the Russian GPU dictatorship. To speak of a “socialist-communist bloc,” as Liston Oak does, is to make a bloody mockery of the Polish proletariat.

The Way of Bourgeois Criticism

The Stalinist party has nothing in common with the old party of Rosa Luxemburg and her disciples; it is a police fabrication of the GPU. The permitted PPS (Socialist Party) has nothing in common with pre-war social democracy, nor with the illegal and heroic PPS of the underground and the Warsaw insurrection. Cyrankiewicz and Osybka are a couple of poor devils, absolutely unknown before, who are puppets of the GPU. There is no political democracy in Poland, not only in a “Kerenskyist” sense, but not even in the sense of the most moderate bourgeois democracy. Therefore, to speak about “Kerenskyism” in Poland is to make good propaganda for Stalinism.

If the Warsaw insurrection contained the seed of socialist revolution, the Stalinist regime represents the march of counter-revolution, the setting up of a Stalinist Thermidor in Poland. Liston Oak, in spite of his liberal and bourgeois repudiation of Stalinism, thinks in a nineteenth century fashion and cannot understand new phenomena, such as Stalinism, which he identifies with the socialist revolution. From this comes the rather grotesque consequence that an old anti-Stalinist liberal is doing good propaganda for Stalinism. The Moscow bureaucrats and their Warsaw puppets must be having a good laugh about it.

It is true, and in this Liston Oak is right, that there is little probability of the socialist revolution developing in Poland. The Stalinist regime closes the way to this revolution) opening instead the road toward the complete incorporation of Poland into the Stalinist empire, that is to say, to a complete Stalinist counter-revolution, or toward a capitalist restoration, in case of the defeat of Russia in Europe and the incorporation of Poland in the Anglo-American orbit.

Both forms of reaction, capitalist and Stalinist, may be overcome and vanquished only through the European and world socialist revolution. The workers’ socialist opposition, the illegal struggle of petty bourgeois and peasants in certain sectors, represent the seeds of this revolution, the only one possible, not merely in Poland but in the whole of Europe.

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